Situation in Syria: “Helping the refugees on the ground” (Human Rights Commissioner on SWR2)

06.08.2012 - Interview

Markus Löning, Federal Government Human Rights Commissioner, gave an interview on Südwestrundfunk on 6 August 2012 about the situation of Syrian refugees. Uwe Lueb interviewed for the programme SWR2 Tagesgespräch.


SWR2: The conflict in Syriacontinues to escalate. More and more people are getting caught between the fronts and leaving the country. How dramatic is the situation of the refugees really?

Human Rights Commissioner Löning: The situation is very dramatic. We have seen the pictures of refugees in Lebanon or Jordan but there are no pictures of the refugees who have to leave their homes in the country itself. The reports are very worrying. I myself have spoken to people who described what they have been through going to Homs, having to leave Homs, fleeing to Aleppo only to have to flee from there before finally crossing the border. So it is dreadful stories we are hearing and it is a dreadful situation for the people. I can only appeal once more to President Assad to think of the people and halt the violence immediately. After all, it is people we are talking about, it is the Syrians who really are suffering immensely.

There are reports about refugees crossing the border in swanky limousines with a lot of money. The rich are more able to help themselves than the poor. What about the people in Syriawho can’t flee because they are too old, too ill, or because they just don’t have the money?

I heard these reports too about rich people who had to leave their country and are now renting an apartment in Lebanon, for example, or have bought one. These people are ultimately also refugees, even if they have money and can of course look after themselves. They don’t need our help. It is the people who have to leave everything behind who need our help. I spoke, for example, to a young man who told me he had to leave some of his family behind to flee. He said his parents were still in the house he grew up in. But he had to leave. He had to leave the country. He said he was now sitting in the desert with nothing but a mattress and a blanket. The stories you hear are devastating.

Now the Greens are calling upon the German Government to help Syrian refugees by providing help for Syria’s neighbouring countries and by cutting bureaucracy so Germanycan take in refugees. Is this what you are going to propose to the German Government?

This isn’t the right time to talk about that. At the minute what we need to do is help the refugees on the ground, both in Lebanon and in Jordan. But of course we also need to be sure to help the people in Syria where we can. That is what we are trying to do at the minute. The people don’t want to leave because they hope of course that the fighting will soon be over and they will be able to return to their homes. Talking about whether they can come to Germany is just missing the point at the moment.

The CDU/CSU parliamentary group chairperson Volker Kauder said the Government is examining how we can, and I quote, “at least help the Christians” who have fled from Syria. Do you think it is justifiable to make assistance dependent on religion?

No, humanitarian assistance is completely unrelated to what kind of people we are talking about. I also think it is a mistake to read a religious element into this when there is otherwise no sign of it. We shouldn’t try to add something that isn’t there. We need to help the people regardless of their religion or whether or not they have religious beliefs. If you look into the eyes of the women and children – and it is mainly women and children we are talking about here – you can’t just say, I’ll help you because you are a Christian but your neighbour is getting nothing. I just think it is the wrong debate.

So a clear rejection of what Mr Kauder said?


The refugee flows from Syriawill presumably keep growing. The fighting between Assad’s troops and his opponents is escalating. The United Nations is just standing there like a toothless tiger. Is that acceptable or does the majority in the UN not need to do something at long last? Maybe Obama, Merkel, Hollande and Cameron need to go to the Russian President Putin and try to convince him?

That is the problem at the minute and Kofi Annan made that very plain when he stepped down as Special Envoy. He couldn’t get anywhere because the international community weren’t presenting a united front behind him. And here I am talking above all about Russia and China. Those are the two major countries who finally need to move on this. I just can’t understand at all how the Russian Government can at this time even provide assistance for the Syrian Government. There has to be an end to the bloodshed. And that will only happen if we all together exert pressure on President Assad and his regime, if we ensure that he steps down and opens the way for a political solution in Syria. But for this we need unity amongst the international community and that is unfortunately something we don’t have at the minute.

Would it then perhaps be an option for Obama, Hollande, Merkel and Cameron to pay Mr Putin a visit together?

Well, such a lot has been done over the last weeks and months. And I’m sure that every effort will be made if it seems at all promising. The Federal Chancellor has been very involved, as has the Foreign Minister, in the efforts to finally create this unity amongst the international community. And President Hollande and President Obama have also done their bit. So I think the ladies and gentlemen concerned will do everything necessary to finally achieve a political solution.

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